Brie Ruais' sculptures, and the manner of their presentation, convey a regard for the condition of presence. They are rough hewn yet brilliantly polished, large in scale and impossibly heavy. They project a quality of being detritus, of being torn and ragged remains after a process of at first rumination and then wreckage has left only skeletal remains of them. They are like something ripped from a proper fabric and left to decay.
When I first encountered these sculptures at Mesler Feuer Gallery in June of 2015, they did not immediately read as clay. They resembled large blocks of cast metal, though I could not reconcile the forms themselves with the color that seemed so central to their presentation. I encourage a certain ignorance in the practice of encountering artworks, because it's about the context of first-hand experience rather than documentation and information gathering after the fact. I prefer to let looking take its course, even if I am due to make aesthetic mistakes along the way. Finding myself in need of correction is both humbling and healthy.
Clay is a very primal material but we are accustomed to reading it as the building block for various types of vessels, functional for everyday chores or for use in building construction. The artist states in a recent interview that "The work actually starts with language. I think a lot about the things that we say about our existence and how we talk about being in the world. I want my work to be about reaching out or spreading out or pushing ahead—those are challenges that I face in my lived experience. I take that language and physically translate it with the work. A lot of the pieces are named as such: Spreading Out, Pushing Ahead, et cetera."
Yet on some other level they also project a sense of being a body, whether as implied innards or a leftover corpse. What translates is the body orientation and the quality of recreating a system of identification. Part of the title of each work includes the weight, in clay, that was used to make the form, and Ruais uses her entire body in this process. I learned this after reading interviews and articles about her work, after the fact, though it was clearly evident from her works that a traditional mode of mark making, decorative and in most case besides the point, was not the desired end result. We are accustomed to thinking of clay as something that is used to create pragmatic objects: amphoras, ashtrays, bowls. The traditional process of creating these objects, on a wheel and in a kiln, has all the earmarks of a cottage industry that has in centuries since become reduced to a craftsmanlike vocation rather than a trade. Yet in recent years there has been a widening of the context for clay as a means of creating great contemporary art. Ruais joins this community and at the same time she amasses a degree of meaning uncomfortable with formal restriction. Hers is a rooting around in the primal soup of creation. What results are artifacts and yet also objects of both beauty and revulsion. Revulsion emerges from a bias that searches for but does not find the rarified forms it expects, while a more limited audience will instinctively find beauty in the new. It is possible to view them as diaristic, a personal movement through matter and the complications that evolve out of it. What Ruais has accomplished will only prove to be a progressively engaging oeuvre.